Learn more about Non-official cover
Non-official cover (NOC) is a term used in espionage (particularly by the CIA) for agents or operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without ties to the government for which they work. Such agents or operatives are typically abbreviated in espionage lingo as a NOC (pronounced "knock").
An agent sent to spy on a foreign country might for instance pose as a journalist, a businessperson, a worker for a non-profit organization (such as a humanitarian group), or an academic. Non-official cover is contrasted with official cover, where an agent assumes a position at a seemingly benign department of their government, such as the diplomatic service. If caught, agents under non-official cover are usually trained to deny any connection with their government, and do not have many of the protections offered to (for example) accredited diplomats who are caught spying. Some countries have regulations regarding the use of non-official cover: the CIA, for example, has at times been prohibited from disguising agents as members of certain aid organizations, or as members of the clergy.
The degree of sophistication put into non-official cover stories can vary considerably. Sometimes, an agent will simply be appointed to a position in a well-established company which can provide the appropriate opportunities. Other times, entire front companies can be established in order to provide false identities for agents. Examples include Air America, used by the CIA during the Vietnam War, and made famous by the eponymous film. Another is Brewster Jennings & Associates, used by the CIA in WMD investigations and notorious as a result of the Plame Affair.
 References in popular culture
- In the 2003 film The Recruit, Al Pacino, starring as a high-ranking CIA official, recruits agents for work under non-official cover (Colin Farrell is one).
- In the Tom Clancy spy novel Debt of Honor, the character John Clark, a CIA spy, is based in Japan as a reporter for a Russian News Service, because while federal law makes it illegal for agents to have cover identities as reporters for American media, the law doesn't prohibit them from representing themselves as reporters for newspapers operating out of other countries.
- Brad Pitt operates as a CIA agent under non-official cover in the 2001 movie Spy Game.
- The plot for the 1996 film version of the television series Mission: Impossible revolves around the theft of a NOC list from the CIA.
- In the book Pirate by Ted Bell, several of the main characters are agents operating under non-official cover.
- In the video game Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, the player's character, Sam Fisher, becomes an agent under non-official cover infiltrating a terrorist organization known as John Brown's Army.